Veterans burial program Texas, unaccompanied veteran to be laid.
Dozens of people gathered Tuesday morning at the Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen for a service for Army veteran Maj. Lee Shotwell, Jr., the 100th unaccompanied veteran to be laid to rest in Texas since the Texas General Land Office created the Unaccompanied Veterans Program in 2015.
Shotwell was born in 1945 and served in the Army from 1963 to 1966, but little else is known about the unclaimed veteran.
Strangers such as Louis Hicks, 92, joined to honor the man they never met.
“I know how it is, and I know what I went through, and I know what he went through,” says Hicks who also served in the Army.
Since the Texas GLO created the Unaccompanied Veterans Program in 2015, it’s averaged more than 20 burials every year, with the highest number, 28, taking place in 2016.
The ceremonies are getting more attention, officials say, because of expanded outreach efforts, which have been increased further this year.
“It was the case before here in Texas that homeless veterans were cremated without a full military burial,” Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said.
However, he adds that the program does more than burials; veteran service officers also help find families of veterans.
“We do what we can to help publish the passing of a military veteran and get that word out,” Bush said.
“In the event a family relative does not come forward, then we begin the process of the unaccompanied veteran burial.”
That process includes full military honors, even when the search for family members comes up short.
No one knows how many families don’t get the message or choose not to come forward.
If there are reasons, the commissioner says they work with loved ones to make sure money isn’t one of them.
“If you’re unable to afford that expense, we work to cover that cost,” he adds.
In recent years, the program has eliminated that cost entirely for Gold Star families.
And for those without someone to claim their flag, the office holds it for 90 days before it is flown at one of four state cemeteries.
The commissioner accepted Shotwell’s flag during Tuesday’s ceremony.
Another such service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the cemetery for Army veteran John Lynn Loyd.